Thursday, March 28, 2013

How does your garden grow?

The book sales and signing session in Rocky’s Bar in Sosua was a great success I think. I sold 25 books and gave another 15 to people who wanted to sell them on. It was also lovely to meet people who had already read the book and wanted to talk to me about it, or to ask me to sign it for them.
Chivirico also signed books if people wanted him to and had a fabulous day. He said he felt very important but the best part of the day was his hot dog.

Chivirico with one of his fans

Back on the farm, we continue with the planting. A friend from Canada sent me some herbs so those have now gone in and everything else is almost ready for transplanting – apart from the parsnips which have yet to make an appearance. I am putting the occasional bag of ice over them whilst telling them that it is very frosty. Let’s see if that does the trick. Chivirico also loves helping in the garden, especially weeding although he does have some problems deciding which are weeds and which are plants. I pray he doesn't pull up my parsnips if they ever do make an appearance.

We are also laying turf. Well I thought that is what we were doing. As far as I remember it is long rolls of pre prepared grass, and you dig, rake and flatten the earth first, then put the rolls of turf down and roll it. Not the Dominican way. That way is to dig holes about a metre apart, and shove a tiny square of turf into the hole. Obviously saves a fortune on turf and I am assured that somehow all the turf will join up and it will become a lovely lawn. Methinks it has a long way to go.

Given that so many people come to this blog and write to me about Sanky Pankys, when asked to enter a competition where I had to make a list of things about the DR, such as the 10 best restaurants etc, I decided to do 10 ways to spot a Sanky. You can read the article here, and please tweet, like, share it and comment. I doubt it will win as the best writing, but the article with the most social media activity and comments also wins a prize. The prizes total US$1,000 in Amazon vouchers so are worth having.

Have a great Easter everyone. We have Dominican friends arriving for the weekend and apparently all of the neighbours go to the river on Sunday. Should be fun!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Plumbing in the campo

As a child I loved Winnie the Pooh, and I loved to play Pooh sticks, which is when a few of you each throw a stick in a river or stream at one side of a bridge and run to the other side and see whose stick comes out from under the bridge first.

Today I have been playing not Pooh Sticks, but poo sticks. The downstairs toilet was blocked and all attempts to unblock it failed. So we dug up the garden and discovered that the pipe just stops in the middle of the garden and doesn't go to the septic tank. There is another pipe for the septic tank at right angles, buried under the soil here in the picture, although you can just see the end of it and a gap of a few feet between the two pipes.

I suggested that we get more pipe to stick the two pipes together but was firmly told that was not necessarily as the gap between the two pipes was supposed to be there. I was also assured that the poo would come charging down the pipe from the toilet, bounce off the concrete block opposite the end of the pipe, like a billiard ball off the side cushion and head straight down the other pipe into the septic tank.

I decided to put it to the test and as no one was able to provide the necessary for the experiment, I used a piece of freshly made dog poo. It did shoot down the pipe, it then hit the wall, but did not bounce into the other pipe, it just broke up and sat there in the hole.  I will spare you the photographic evidence.

I was then assured that it would not be the same with human poo. I will test that later.

However I did some internet research and it appears that husband was right, and there has to be a manhole between the two pipes for cleaning access, and air apparently. And it looks like the pipes are at a right angle too. However I think the hole should be concrete and not just mud, so tomorrow we will buy cement and build the manhole.

At the same time, there was a snake in the open pit between the two pipes. The snake would have had two options, go down the pipe to the septic tank, or go up the pipe into the toilet.

The snake being held up - the green thing on the ground is the hosepipe not another snake!

I know which one I would choose if I were a snake, and am now concerned about having my bottom bitten by a snake shooting up from the depths of the loo. Happy days.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Padlocks and parsnips

I have been eagerly waiting for copies of my book, “What about your saucepans?" to arrive from England. It was prohibitively expensive to post them and luckily for me, a friend, Jonathan, offered to bring them back with him as he was in the UK and returning here. He purchased a new suitcase for the purpose, and also included the thing I miss most from the UK, parsnips. As soon as he landed on Dominican soil, he sent one of his Dominican employees to the bus company, Caribe Tours, and put the suitcase on the bus to me. We use buses as the postal service here. The employee called me to tell me when it would arrive.

I eagerly went to the local office of the bus company, and there was said suitcase. I could hardly contain my excitement and was desperate to open it. But the suitcase was padlocked with a small but good quality Globe padlock.

I asked the woman in the office if there was another packet with the key in. She said not. I couldn't believe Jonathan would have padlocked it. Husband said not to worry it would be easy to snap off.
Spoke to Jonathan later.  He hadn't put the padlock on. The bus company did and gave the key to the Dominican employee who had it in his pocket. The employee said no point in telling me as everyone knew the padlocks were easy to break and my husband would know that. If they are that easy to break why put the bloody thing on then, I ask myself. Why not use a tie wrap which costs a fraction of the price and easier to get off? Hey ho.  I wonder if other authors have the same issues?

The lock wouldn't actually snap off, it had to be sawn off. And there inside were my books.

And parsnips. Bliss.

I am off to Sosua to sell and sign books on Sunday, March 24 between 12 noon and 3 pm at Rocky’s Blues Bar in Sosua.  It would be lovely to meet any blog readers who can make it there.

In the meantime, back in the campo, I met one of my neighbours.

He has informed me that a donkey is the best means of transport and my friend Shirley has offered me her donkey, Bob. However Bob used to run up behind her with ears flat and mouth open and try and bite her backside so I have declined the offer even though he has since been castrated. A girl can’t take the chance with a rampant donkey.

Bob the burro

My vegetable patch is bringing me daily joy and anticipation. The cauliflowers are looking very healthy, well the leaves are and I can’t wait to see a cauliflower sprouting out of the middle. Personally I am not sure whether I would have planted them under a palm tree, but I now have dug vegetable patch two, to transplant them. No idea when they should be transplanted though, so I will need to read up on that.

The rest of the veg are all sprouting up. No one told me that water melon grow all over the place, like pumpkin or auyama so putting them in a nice little row was a waste of time. They need a massive area just for one, so they will need transplanting too.

The only seeds not doing anything are, guess what, the parsnips. I have been told they take 3-4 weeks to germinate so there is still hope. I am thinking of pouring bags of ice cubes over them so they think it is frosty, and maybe that might help.

Meg the dog continues to frustrate the cats’ attempts to get upstairs, and this is what greets me every morning. She seems to be managing to stick her head further and further through the cat flap hole.

In fact, she seems to have become addicted  to all of the cat flap holes. I put some chicken skin outside for the cats so that they could eat it in peace. It wasn't to be.

Looking forward to seeing those of you who can make it in Sosua. Next blog post will report on how it goes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fogons and Insects

One of my neighbours, Barbara, cooks every day for most of the people in the campo on her outside cooking stove called a fogon. Here you can see the fogon – the wood goes on the table and the cooking pot above. It gives the food a lovely smokey taste and obviously saves money as we are surrounded by forests, so the wood comes free and it saves paying for gas.

At the front right of the fogon you can see a smaller version known as an anafe, this uses charcoal in case you run out of wood, and is also portable so it can be used anywhere. The big green ball at the back is a tinaco, or water storage tank.

She lives in a beautiful wooden house with a largish garden. The front is grass and trees and the back is full of fruit trees, including a hot chilli pepper bush which is fabulous for me so that I can have fresh chillis for cooking curries and Thai food.

The little windows open up, and there are floaty curtains inside – exactly the same as the ones I have. Obviously Turkish brothel curtains are all the rage.

I sat down for my lunch yesterday, chicken, rice and beans together with salad, and then the man who owns the little colmado came proudly over and offered me – wait for it – crispy fried turtle dove. He had shot them the day before. I politely declined.

As the outside eating area was full up, I was eating inside at the dining room table and  I was joined by a beautiful green lizard.

Some of the insects here are really pretty, such as lizards, butterflies, dragonflies, but a couple of days ago, I had a thick sweater on as it was cold and I felt something crawling up my back. I took off my jumper and there sitting inside the jumper was the biggest scorpion I have seen here.

Luckily it didn't sting me as I have been told that their stings can be quite nasty. According to Barbara, there are quite a few around and you must always shake out your clothes before putting them on. Lesson learnt.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Week one in the campo

I have now been in the campo for a week. It is freezing cold at night, well, compared to the town, going down to 15 degrees Centigrade, 59 Fahrenheit. Chivirico is here for the weekend and he finds it cold too.

I have spent the week trying to sort things out in the house, trying to find things, as when you move here there is no rhyme or reason as to how things are packed. I have come across ketchup in my knicker drawer, and knives and forks in handbags. So far not much appears to have gone missing  en route, which is a miracle in itself.
One of the most important things for a Dominican man is his gymnasium and that has been set up already. Standing there is Hector, who is helping us with the garden and painting at the moment. Behind him is the water tank. Water comes from the mains into the underground cistern once a fortnight and then is pumped on demand into the house. If it runs out, which it does if it doesn't rain, as we have to water the newly planted trees, then we have to call the little tanker and they come to the house and fill your cistern up. It is 500 pesos a tank which is around US$13 and it takes 5 or 6 tanker loads to fill it. Apparently there is a new aqueduct coming soon so the water should come more often.

I have also been out and about trying to suss out where everything is, and I came across the pork butcher. He is only open on Saturday and Sunday, or until he has sold all of the pig.

The neighbours continue to visit. All of them. All day long. They come in little groups of 3 – 5. They usually bring something, whether fruit or a whole meal or coffee. They just walk in the door and sit down and stay for around an hour. Whilst it is lovely to have such friendly neighbours, I am hoping the novelty of talking to a foreigner will wear off soon, but I have a feeling it won’t. Everyone seems to spend every day visiting each other and I am being told off for not visiting anyone yet. The dogs are escaping through a gap in the fence, so I asked the man who lived there if he minded if I fixed it. He said he would fix it, and he did.

I have started my vegetable patch and am eagerly waiting to see what, if anything, happens. So far I have tomatoes, peppers, radishes, cabbage, and of course, parsnips. I planted it 3 days ago and the radishes are already doing something. I have also got lemon grass planted, and the neighbours have promised me a ginger plant.

Chivirico has had a great weekend, although has spent more time in the various neighbours’ houses than here. I will take him home this afternoon and try and find my 3 pawed cat who was left behind.

Fingers crossed I find the cat.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The start of campo life

I am here in the mountains in my new forever home, known not as something normal like” Mountain View”, but as “The Wasp House,” as the house, which was dilapidated, was full of wasps and wasp nests when we first saw it. I am hoping they will not return.
As I said, my husband took charge of everything, including decoration, and he told me he hired a gay Dominican interior designer.  I am not sure what I expected to see when I arrived, but I don’t think that even in my wildest dreams it was a Turkish brothel.

There are floaty nets with beads hanging off them on all the windows, and there are a lot of windows. Luckily I am getting used to them now, but I do feel like I should be belly dancing.

The bedrooms are like something out of a 5 star hotel. I am told that as they are ‘de lujo’ the covers and pillows are only for show. Lujo means luxury. Whilst they do look lovely, going to bed is anything but luxury as the heavy cover has to be taken off and replaced by a quilt or duvet. Pillows have to be added too. It is the reverse process in the morning. Making the bed is now a major task.

The bathroom is also ‘de lujo’ with frilly toilet covers and towels that cannot be used as they are for decoration. My instructions are to take my towel into the bathroom and then take it back into the bedroom afterwards.

But I think he did a brilliant job, and the difference from the barrio is night and day.

I was concerned that the cats might not understand how to use the Dominican cat flap, aka hole in wall. I need not have worried as it took all of my detective skills to work out that they were using it by the muddy footprints on the floor.

There are also cat flaps on the doors which go to the upstairs and I was surprised that the cats didn't jump on my bed at night as they usually do. I found out why this morning when I got up, as Meg the dog is not allowed upstairs, but is supposed to guard the house downstairs. Obviously she prefers to be as close to upstairs as possible, as her snout was firmly jammed in the cat flap. No way could the poor cats get in.

We are slowly getting organised and had a satellite installed for television. Unfortunately it didn't work, as next to us is a mahogany forest and the satellite had no way of picking up the signal through the treetops. As usual in this country, there is always a way to fix things and husband took off shoes, climbed the 30 odd foot tree by shinning up the truck as he would climb a coconut palm and hacked off the tops of the trees. Two minor issues. One it is illegal to cut down mahogany, and secondly one of the bigger branches fell down landing straight on the newly installed hot water heater. Don’t ask me why the water heater is outside in the garden either. Quickly fixed with taypee, although as I complained about that it was then fixed properly.

There are about 15 houses/huts in our little campo village, and I will soon be able to tell you all about the neighbours. At this juncture suffice it to say they are very nice, keep bringing us food every day, all wear woolly hats (it is very cold here at the minute) and have promised me games of dominoes, dancing in the colmado and drinking rum in the park on Saturday afternoon. I had no idea there was a park here.

Chivirico comes on Friday for the weekend which I am really looking forward to. We have the stickers ready for him to decorate his bedroom, and he has decided he needs a cowboy outfit as people ride horses in the countryside.

Should be a fun weekend.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Homeless in Hispaniola

As you know I am moving house, and husband is sorting it all so I will not be stressed. The plan was for me to move into a hotel the night before the move and then move into the house. All he had to do was move the furniture, cats and dogs. This will be done Dominican style which I must admit I find a little stressful having nothing to do with packing crates, removal vans and wrapping things in newspaper, so just as well to be out of it.

last time we moved

The day I left, Wednesday, all was quiet in the house and he told stepson Alberto not to start moving anything or cleaning anything so that the cats (7 of them) stayed calm, and he and I drove off in convoy to the hotel, with me in front in my jeep and him behind. I could see he was on the phone all the time, which I always tell him not to do when he is driving. Not that he listens to me.

We arrive at the hotel, and he gets out of the car and announces that he was on the phone as there was an emergency. Alberto decided to totally ignore him, and started clearing stuff out. A cupboard had fallen on his head, splitting it open, he screamed, half of the barrio came running as they love a drama, all the cats had done a runner and Alberto was currently in hospital. Hey ho. Another one who doesn't listen. Luckily he ended up not having a fractured skull and only 6 stitches, and returned back to our cat free house.

As you may realise from the title, it is now Friday and I am still at the hotel. It is supposedly five star but is being used as a training hotel so is an interesting and typically Dominican experience.  I had already seen the rooms which are a reasonable size, with a balcony and big window. I checked in and was taken to my room. It was a cupboard, on top of the disco, with no balcony and no window. I think I am the only guest in the hotel. I announced I wanted a decent room, and the porter called the receptionist and told me that she had said that she didn't know I knew what the other rooms were like so had given me the worst. At the same price. There is logic for you. I moved rooms. There is no shampoo, but the reception gave me body lotion and said that was the same. I decided I needed a tot of rum last night, and rang to order it and asked how big a tot was. They said small, so I said send me two then. They arrived with a litre bottle explaining you could have one tot or a bottle but not two tots.
I have no idea when I am leaving here. Should have been yesterday, might be today, but more likely Saturday as there appear to be a few hitches in the move.

One of the cats, Cojo, which means 'cripple', very non PC I know, is missing. He only has three paws so I doubt he has gone far as he can’t hop very fast. The barrio is hunting for him. He has already had a hard life being born pawless, and a couple of years ago fell off the roof and impaled himself on a spike, so I hope he makes the move.

Cojo is the black one with his brothers

The book, What about your saucepans? is selling well I think and is now available on all of the Amazon websites, both as a paperback and a Kindle version, as well as other on line book stores such as Barnes and Noble. It is getting some great reviews which is very rewarding. Thanks so much to those of you who have bought it.
Next time you hear from me I should be in my new house in the mountains. ‘Should’ being the operative word.